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How to use seed catalogs to best advantage

The seed catalogs have been coming in the mail since early December; most will have been mailed by mid January. Many of the catalogs offer bonuses if you order early. You can save money by purchasing early, and you are guaranteed against having to accept substitutions.
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Who can resist the water on a mild day?

January’s first Saturday afternoon was a beautiful time to be on the water. It was near 70 degrees, sunny, calm and the incoming tide was making up nicely. Drifting in my small skiff over a shell bottom at the mouth of the Magothy, I threaded a piece of worm on a size-two hook. The upper hook on my top and bottom rig already sported a small, wriggling bull minnow.

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Would you believe it’s our shortest season?

Thursday brings two celestial milestones: it marks the latest sunrise of the year and it marks perihelion, earth’s closest point to the sun.
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Heat and steam mean the microbes are working

The temperature in the middle of my compost pile ranges from 90 to 120 degrees. I measure using a compost thermometer with a 14-inch stem. The height of the pile has been shrinking rapidly, with the center sinking faster than the edges. Temperature and shrinkage tell me that the microbes are feasting, changing those leaves, weeds and grass clippings into compost.
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Out with the old, in with the new

Winter has been kind to us. I said farewell to the old year drifting under the Bay Bridge in calm and temperate conditions, catching (and releasing) a few fat five-pound rockfish.
    Our weather was so unusually mild during the last of 2011 that the water temperatures in parts of the mid-Bay rose three degrees. Judging by the 10-day forecast, into January I can still hold off on winterizing my skiff.
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Feast your eyes on the heavens above

Of the naked-eye planets, Mercury is the most overlooked. That isn’t for lack of brightness, as it outshines both Mars and Saturn. Nor is it a result of distance, given that it’s closer to us than is Mars. But so near the sun, Mercury never strays far from its blinding glare.
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Otherwise winter’s chill will wilt your Christmas blooms

Keep Christmas in bloom by shielding your poinsettias from sudden drops in temperature. Remember, poinsettia are a tropical plant, so a sudden chill below 40 degrees can cause the plant to quickly lose foliage, including the red or white bracks.
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It was a mostly great year

The rockfish season this year was, on the whole, great. It didn’t start until June because spring was a three-month mix of heavy rains, high winds, muddy water and low temperatures. While that early scenario was disappointing for anglers, it was fantastic for the fish, because just about every species that reproduces in the Chesapeake had a very successful spawn.
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Five planets brighten these long nights

All the naked-eye planets decorate our night skies the next couple weeks, with the two brightest coming into view at sunset but all staggered throughout the dark hours.
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The season ended December 15. No more keepers until April.

Tic, tic, tic: I could feel my two-ounce bucktail jig bouncing lightly across the remnants of the centuries-old oyster bed some 70 feet below. On this windy, mid-December day, even with gloves my hands were aching cold and my fingers growing numb. Then, finally, something below felt different, and I slammed my rod back hard. The tip arced over, hesitated, and my whole rod was pulled down, almost to the gunnel....